Fall migration is a spectacular time for birding, when birds are beginning their journeys south and time spent outdoors is more comfortable than during summer’s scorching heat. But the exact timing of fall migration varies from north to south and from mountains to plains, so how can birders know just when to start watching for those seasonal migrants?
5 Signs of Fall Migration
While the precise clues that signal autumn vary from place to place, universal signs that birds will be on the move include…
- Climate Changes: Cooler temperatures, shorter days, and increased rainfall are the same signs of autumn that birds use to begin their migration, and when birders notice those changes, they should start looking for fall migrants to arrive.
- Autumn Foliage: Watching plants for leaves to change color or harvests to ripen is a sure sign of fall, and as more autumn foods are available, more birds will be on the move to take advantage of the bounty as fuel for their journeys.
- Flocking: Some birds migrate in huge flocks, including starlings, blackbirds, and swallows. These birds begin to gather in those flocks for several weeks before they begin migration, so when greater numbers of birds are congregating together, migration is about to start.
- Nighttime Birds: To avoid predators and take better advantage of air currents and astronomical navigation, many birds migrate at night. When birders can hear birds at night or notice more late evening activity, it is safe to say that migration is imminent.
- New Birds Arriving: Birds in northern areas begin migration sooner than southern populations, and they will take their time going from place to place along their route. New species that haven’t been seen since spring migration will begin to arrive at birding hotspots and in backyards, signaling that fall migration is underway.
Taking Advantage of Migration
Once you notice that migration is beginning, there’s no time to waste. New birds may be arriving every day while other birds leave, and revisiting popular birding locations frequently can yield new sightings every time during migration periods. Keeping feeders full and bird baths fresh will help attract migrating birds to the backyard, and visiting fall nature and birding festivals is a great way to enjoy all the winged wonders of the season.